For more the 200 years, controversy has simmered over the subject of cannibalism on the Pacific Northwest Coast. So heated has the topic become that many scholars have hesitated to engage in the debate. Now, using an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural approach, historian Jim McDowell offers a comprehensive study of cannibalism on the coast. Beginning with the many supposed "man-eating" incidents recorded by European and American explorers and traders who visited Nootka Sound between 1744and 1884, McDowell shows how the accounts were coloured by a "cannibal complex" among the Western observers. McDowell then revisits the ground-breaking work of Franz Boas and other anthropologists to reinterpret cannibalism as it was practised in the secret hamatsa ceremony - ritual cannibalism designed to strengthen and perpetuate Native communities. Presenting the most complete discussion of the hamatsa to date, McDowell demonstrates the spiritual profundity of the ceremony (which continues today in various forms) and its intended purpose in coping with the dark forces of the world. Whereas the early explorers abhorred the gustatory cannibalism they believed they were observing, McDowell reveals that the ritual cannibalism of the hamatsa has much to teach the West in its present spiritual uncertainty and confusion.